Officials at Providence — whose Centralia and Olympia hospitals care for the bulk of Lewis County’s severe COVID-19 cases — say they support Washington’s new vaccine mandate …
Officials at Providence — whose Centralia and Olympia hospitals care for the bulk of Lewis County’s severe COVID-19 cases — say they support Washington’s new vaccine mandate for state employees and health care workers. But some of the area’s Republican lawmakers are critiquing the requirement, which is unlikely to be well-received in mostly-unvaccinated Lewis County.
“I would say overall we are seeing our caregivers in support of our updated vaccination policy as well as the governor mandate,” Providence spokeswoman Angela Maki said via email, referring to Providence’s own vaccine mandate. “We fully support Gov. Inslee’s decision and look forward to working with our partners in organized labor to ensure that every health care worker in Southwest Washington is in compliance with these new requirements.”
Providence Chief Executive Darin Goss told county officials this week that he’s unsure of how the mandate will impact the network’s already-taxed workforce, but that Providence is supportive of Washington’s new sweeping requirement.
“Our continued hope is that people who have the choice to be vaccinated will, and recognize that they’re helping those that don’t have that choice right now,” Goss said.
In addition to its own vaccine requirement for caregivers, Providence also recently announced a “no-visitors policy” starting Aug. 11, with the exception of Essential Support People. A news release cited the surge in the highly-transmissible delta variant.
In contrast, Senate Minority Leader John Braun, a Centralian Republican, joined House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, Monday in saying COVID-19 vaccines are “a personal health care choice and should not be mandated by any level of government.
“Threatening to terminate someone’s job if they don’t comply with this requirement is heavy-handed and wrong.”
They added: “Vaccinations can save lives and we strongly encouraged people to get them. We have been vaccinated ourselves.”
Instead of a mandate, the top Republicans recommended the governor look to incentives. Washington did follow other states in running a vaccine lottery system to encourage people to get the shot. Back then, Wilcox called the program “not the worst” of Inslee’s decisions, although he stopped short of praising it.
Aberdeen’s Rep. Jim Walsh — the Republican who previously compared the state’s “Shot of a Lifetime” lottery program to “The Hunger Games,” a trilogy in which children are forced to fight to the death — had a harsher reaction to the new vaccine mandate.
In a statement, the outspoken conservative said the governor “should expect widespread resistance to these latest constitutionally dubious edicts.”
Walsh previously sported a yellow Star of David to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates — a stunt he later apologized for.
While some Republicans are balking at the new mandate, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, of Spokane, and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, of Tacoma, called Inslee’s announcement “an important step in stopping the spread of the virus and its variants.”
The delta variant is behind the current surge in COVID-19 cases. This week, Lewis County reported the highest-ever weekly case count in what officials have called an alarming level of community spread.
“State employees and health care providers serve the public. Being vaccinated with a safe, effective vaccine is a simple extension of that commitment,” Billig and Jinkins wrote. “We applaud the governor’s actions to keep Washingtonians safe.”
Washington state is now aligned with a handful of other states — California, New York and Virginia — mandating COVID-19 vaccines for some employees. In some cases, a regular COVID-19 testing option is available. Federal employees are also required to get vaccinated or mask up, distance and get regularly tested for the virus. Members of the military are also expected to soon be required to get the jab.
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